Tohono O’odham to recieve $10M grant to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas

A $10 million federal grant to the Tohono O’odham Nation will help connect more businesses, schools and farms to high-speed Internet, Arizona USDA Rural Development Director Charlene Fernandez said Thursday.

The grant is part of USDA’s $759 million third round of funding for the ReConnect program, which was created in 2018 to bring high-speed internet to rural areas of the country. The program requires applicants to serve areas without Internet access with download speeds of 100 Mbps and download speeds of 20 Mbps.

“(ReConnect) will assist the Navajo and Tohono O’odham tribal communities and many areas in Navajo, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties,” Fernandez said in a news release. “Equity in the program will allow underserved rural areas, tribal reservations, and trusts to have the same high-speed Internet access as anywhere else in Arizona.

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A total of $17 million will go to major utility providers for the Navajo and Tohono O’odham Nations.

The Tohono O’odham Utility Authority, the nation’s main Internet provider, received a $10 million grant to expand high-speed Internet with a “fiber-to-the-building” network, which means installing electrical fiber-optic cables.

The Tohono O’odham Nation is located in the middle of Pima County and extends into Pinal and Maricopa counties.

As part of the grant, TOUA undertakes to “build facilities capable of providing high-speed Internet service at a speed of 100 Mbps (upload and download),” according to a press release.

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According to a census reporter, the grant will also fund fiber optic connections on the Nation’s off-reserve trust land in Gila Bend, population 330.

TOUA is also able to lower Internet connection costs because they are part of two Federal Communications Commission programs—Lifeline for Low-Income Consumers and Affordable Connections.

According to TOUA’s website, high-speed Internet through TOUA costs $110 per month, with download speeds of 100 megabytes per second and download speeds of 50 Mbps. Cox Communication, a major Internet provider in Tucson, charges about $115 a month for 100 Mbps download speeds.

Mbps is a standard measure of Internet speed and refers to how fast people can download or upload things from the Internet. Speeds over 25 Mbps are considered “advanced service” by the FCC. A person can enjoy a speed of 5-25 Mbps for telecommunications or downloading files.

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Tohono O’odham Community College was also awarded a $2 million grant in July to improve Internet access near its campus in Sells, Ariz. The funding comes from the $268 million Connecting Minority Communities pilot program. Deane College, a public Navajo land-grant college, received $3 million from that grant program.

The ReConnect program has $1.6 billion in funding through 2022 and is funded in part by the bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed last year, according to a press release.



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